Topping it Off: Eco-Friendly Gift-Wrapping

December 15th, 2011 § 10 comments § permalink

It’s become clear that sometime during the next few weeks or so, you may have something to give me.   Quite possibly it will be something that doesn’t cost much.  Maybe it will be free—a shoulder massage, a ukulele tutorial, a list of trustworthy sitters, your timeshare in Antrim, Ireland—in any case, since you know I am a surprise-junkie, it will likely require some sort of superawesome wrapping to ambush and wow me.

This will be easily done, I think, since it is still fall here and I’ve recently discovered some mind-blowing tutorials HERE and HERE on transforming fall leaves into crafty decorative flowers—perfect for topping off your thoughtful gift.  I understand you may be concerned that fall is coming to a close, and leaves are becoming scarce and crinkly and delicate, and it might just take longer than expected for you to figure out just how to get those leaves folded.  Just.  Perfectly.  I am here to prepare you for alternatives.

This project requires a Felted Wool Ball, needle and thread, remnant wool felt, and a small collection of felted sweaters.  First, prepare the “petals” for the project.  With sharp sewing scissors, cut the felted sweaters into long zigzaggy strips, leaving a connection on the bottom edge—pointy or rounded tops.  Cut thin sweaters into narrow strips (for inner petals) and thick sweaters into wider strips (for outer petals).

I keep a stash of these strips handy for noteworthy projects like button bracelets and collars for small lively monster friends.

Next (and this is optional) use a felting needle, felting pad and skinny wool roving to embellish the wool ball, adding spirals or dots or anything else superfancy (see Dry Felting).

With needle and thread in hand, stitch the bottom edge of one narrow zigzaggy strip around the sides of the felted ball until you meet up with the starting point.  Cut off the extra end of the strip.  Stitch a wider zigzaggy strip around the sides of the ball, matching bottom edges and overlapping the first strip until you meet up with the starting point.  Cut off the end.  Stitch a third (the widest) zigzaggy strip over the first two.  Cut off the end.

Next, cut a large leaf-shaped piece of wool felt.  Place this piece on the bottom of your flower and sew around the edges, attaching it to your flower top and covering the rough zigzaggy strip edges.  Good job.

Gift ribbons can be easily made with light cotton fabric scrap.  Cut in about an inch from the edge.  Grab fabric edges and pull away, leaving raw-edged ribbon.

Wrap your gift with a larger fabric scrap, tying with raw-edged ribbon.

With needle and thread, secure flower onto ribbon.  Ta da!

 

Note: don’t attempt perfection with these felted flowers.  As with other projects, quirky outcomes are preferred over conventional.  That said, remind yourself that, in nature, some flowers are smaller, some are fatter, some grow to the left, some to the right, and some even lose petals.

Celebrate the uniqueness.

 

How to Make A Good Listener

April 14th, 2011 § 11 comments § permalink

Felted sweater owl closeupToday you will learn how to make a good listener.

For this project, you will need a 100% wool sweater and a small collection of wool sweater scraps and cotton fabric scraps.  Solid, striped or patterned.  As with the Tiny Birdhouse, Swittens, and Sweater Mouse projects, add your wool sweater (do not dismantle it yet) to the laundry batch and wash and dry on normal to felt.  This project also requires a needle, thread, an embroidery hoop, embroidery thread, and some stuffing like organic cotton stuffing, hemp fibers or wool.  We are known to borrow synthetic filling from retired threadbare elderly friends.  I’ll admit, I’m kind of fancy and I opt to insert a small bean bag or pebble-filled bag in the base of the owl to provide ballast.

Owl PatternFinal owl size is determined by the size of your sweater.  Cut a sleeve off your sweater near the armpit, leaving the side seam alone.  Lay the sleeve flat so the seam sits naturally at the side.  Trim the armpit end (SLEEVE BOTTOM) in a semi-circle about 10” away from the wrist end of the sleeve, matching front and back.  Cut a long symmetric lens-shaped piece (BASE) from the sweater fabric, matching the length of SLEEVE BOTTOM.  Turn SLEEVE inside out.  With right sides together, sew BASE to SLEEVE BOTTOM.  Turn right side out.  Place a pebble-filled fabric bag (this is simple to make) inside the sleeve.  Insert stuffing into the owl, filling ¾ up to the sleeve.

Now, you and your starry-eyed design team must do a little research and envision your friend’s outcome.  Things you should probably consider: curved beak, facial disk, wings and ear tufts.

All owls have a short, curved, downward-facing beak that is hooked at the end.  It is designed for gripping and tearing prey.  As well, the bill is curved downwards in order to keep the owl’s field of vision clear.  To make the owl beak, cut a diamond shape out of lightweight wool sweater scrap material.  Fold the diamond in half and sew at the edges.  To provide some shape, insert a teensy bit of stuffing inside before putting in the final stitch.  To provide a curve, use small internal stitches to “grab” the pointy tip and pull it down and back toward the base.

Felted Sweater OwlMany owl species have large parabolic facial disks called “ruffs” that focus sound—not unlike a parabolic microphone.  Its shape ensures that all distant sound waves that strike the surface parallel to the central axis (the direction the owl’s face is pointed) will be focused exactly on the owl’s ears.  To make the owl’s facial disk, place a lightweight contrasting sweater into an embroidery hoop.  Sew on the beak.  Add eye “patches” with frayed fabric scraps, stitching at the edges.  Embroider curved sleepy eyes with a backstitch.  Just in case you need it, Purl Bee has a fantastic backstitch tutorial.  Embellish the owl’s face with frayed wool or cotton fabric scraps—add a “cere” or “operculum” at the top of the beak where the nostrils are set, add “brows” above the eyes—use your best judgment.  Then, remove your sweater from the embroidery hoop.  To make the owl’s facial disk., cut a large oval around the beak and eyes.  Sew it to the front of the owl’s body.

An owl’s ear openings are often asymmetrically-set (one ear is placed slightly higher than the other) which increases sound reception.  This is fantastic news for someone like me who finds symmetrical sewing to be somewhat challenging.  Some owls have ear tufts—these are located on the top of the head and are often referred to as “horns” or “ears” but are really just clusters of long feathers and have nothing to do with the owl’s ability to hear.  There are several interesting hypotheses about just why these exist (e.g. provide camouflage, threaten predators, provide intra-species recognition), but the mystery remains unsolved in the scientific world.  Just a small something for you and your tiny team to think about.

Owl PairTo make ear tufts, you must first tuck in the SLEEVE TOP and stitch, leaving about 2 inches un-sewn on both sides.  These unsewn sides will form the owl’s ear tufts.  To fully form ear tufts, make indentations with stitching on outer sides.  Embellish the ear tufts with frayed cotton remnants.  Use lightweight contrasting sweater remnants for wings.

There.  You are done.  You have made a good listener.

And everybody likes a good listener.

 

Me

April 1st, 2011 § 1 comment § permalink

Mossy Pinafore DressesIn May, I will begin selling my work on Etsy.

All my wares are “refashioned” from high-quality cast-off fabric, curtains, clothing and notions—things that would otherwise be destined for garbage landfills.  Unwanted wool sweaters, upholstery, wool remnants, buttons, clasps, lace—some are felted and reconstructed, some are cut and altered—all are transformed into a combination of vintage and modern designs.  Everything I make is crafted with extreme care by my own hands.


Come take a peek.


And, when the shop opens, come on in.


Felted Sweater Mice

March 23rd, 2011 § 13 comments § permalink

Felted Sweater MouseSometimes small fingers (and old fingers) find small projects to be tricky— tying a shoe, handling scissors, zipping a zipper, buttoning a button—they all require precision and a steady hand.  As does hand sewing.  Sewing not only demands dexterity, but also requires patience.  On top of this, it adds the threat of a potential finger prick.  Followed by little watery eyes.  Yowch!

This is incredibly unfortunate, since small people frequently like playing with small friends.  Dollhouse people, finger puppets, Lego people, tiny wooden animals—they are all good company and don’t seem to eat much.  My small people have been captivated by my friend Charlotte’s small friends for quite some time now. This has been a challenge for both them and me since Charlotte’s small friends, remarkably sweet and delicate, are very very small.  They are hand-sewn mice—reflective, contemplative furry friends with strikingly large personalities.  As well, they have microscopic eyes and noses, giving them extra bonus points.

Tortured by the opposing forces of teeny, wild fingers and the love of all things small, my design team and I made futile attempts at replicating Charlotte’s mice.  In the end, we designed a simple, slightly larger pattern with exposed stitching that is just perfect for small fingers.

For this project, you will need a small collection of 100% wool sweater scraps.  Solid, striped or patterned.  As with the Tiny Birdhouse and Swittens projects, add your wool sweater to the laundry batch and wash and dry on normal.  This project also requires a needle, thread and some stuffing like organic cotton stuffing, hemp fibers or wool.  We are renowned for borrowing (well, stealing, really) synthetic filling from retired threadbare elderly friends.  Those of you who are fancy may opt to insert a small rice or bean-filled fabric bag in the base of the mouse to provide some weight.

Pattern: Size is up to you.  I recommend that you size your first mouse on a slightly-larger-than-life size (dare I say, rat size?).  As with the Swittens project, I have found that there is a significant positive correlation between successful project outcome and project size, when measured by various indicators, such as big smiles.  Don’t start out too teeny.

Cut the sweater as below.  In addition, you will need a tail.  It should be a long, skinny rectangular piece (that will later be folded and sewn).

Felted Mouse PatternSewing Instructions:  Fold the tail in half and secure with a blanket stitch.  (Just a note:  Futuregirl has a fantastic photo-filled tutorial on blanket stitching.)  With wrong sides together, stitch down the back of the body.  Stitch from the nose down, stopping about ½ inch before the end.  Insert end of tail at bottom of back and secure.  Finish stitching bottom of back.  With wrong sides together, stitch the bottom edge of the body to the oval base, leaving approximately a 2-inch gap for stuffing.

Insert stuffing into the mouse, filling the nose first.  When almost full, insert bean bag and continue stitching to close the back seam.  Fold the base edge of ears in half and secure with a few central stitches.  Flatten the seam and position the ears on the mouse head.  Stitch.  Use a felting needle and wool roving to make eyes and nose.  Use strong button thread for whiskers if you are most able.

(And, “most able” sort of sounds like “vote on Babble,” which reminds me to ask for your vote, since Mossy has been nominated on Babble for an important thingy, and if you enjoy the post you’ve read or any you’ve read in the past, or if you plan to enjoy any posts you’ll read in the future, please give Mossy a “thumbs up.”   It’s just a click.  Here on Babble.  Thank you in advance.  I will mail you a hug.)

Felted Sweater Mouse with CoatNow you have a new small friend.  And you and your family will love your friend more than you ever thought was possible.  I mean love.  More than anyone should.

 

The Science of Felting

March 18th, 2011 § 5 comments § permalink

Tiny Felted BirdhousesSeveral folks have expressed interest in the actual felting process—Geez, Mossy, how does it all work?

Here’s what I know.  Felt is a mass of dense wool and/or fur.  It is not woven, but rather pressed and manipulated in a centuries-old process using heat, moisture and pressure or agitation.  The result is the strongest, smoothest, most water-resistant natural fabric known.  Soap helps in the felting process.  Heat and moisture cause the outer overlapping scales along the wool fiber to open, and the soap allows the fibers to slide easily over one another, thereby causing them to become entangled.  Wool fibers are made up of a protein called keratin.  The keratin in the fibers becomes chemically bound to the protein of the other fibers resulting in a permanent bond between the fibers.  The felting process is irreversible.  Sometimes this is unfortunate if you are like me and have several unintentional child-sized sweater casualties on hand as silent reminders.

Since wool felt is not woven and doesn’t require a loom for its production, it can be made rather easily.  Because of this, felt is the earliest known form of fabric.   The true origin of felt is unknown, though I am aware of several cultures that take credit for the discovery of felt.  One Sumerian legend tells of Saint Clement, a wandering monk, who cleverly wrapped flax fibers between his shoes and feet to prevent blisters.  Upon arrival at his destination, he removed his shoes and discovered that the flax had, in fact, felted due to the heat, pressure and perspiration.  Saint Clement became the patron saint for hat makers.

The steps included in making felt have changed little over time.  Felted fabric is produced using heat, moisture and pressure to mat and interlock the fibers.  While machinery can be used today to accomplish many of these tasks, the processing requirements remain unchanged.  One exception is that until the late nineteenth century mercury was used in the processing of felt for hatmaking.  Mercury was discovered to have debilitating effects on the hatter, causing a type of poisoning that led to tremors, hallucinations and other psychotic symptoms—hence the term “mad hatter.”

What makes a good sweater to felt?  When looking for a thrifted sweater or two to upcycle for a felting project, I usually choose 100% wool.  Other animal fibers will work as well—mohair, cashmere, alpaca, etc.  Be sure the tag is not labeled “superwash,” since this “washable wool” will have been chemically treated to avoid shrinkage (felting).  Remove all buttons, ribbons, labels, etc. from the sweater, cut it apart at the seams (completely cutting away the seams), and throw it in the hot-water wash and cold-water rinse with the (relentless) laundry pile.  Often, I wash and dry twice.

Felt made with a thrifted sweater has all the benefits of wool—stability, durability, earthy texture—and has the eco-friendly attributes of being natural and second-hand.  Hurrah!

 

Felted Hairbands

February 16th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Felted HairbandWhen the snow is fresh and giant feathery snowflakes twist and twirl and can be caught or rolled into snowballs or snow forts or snow people, it’s time to bundle up and head out the door and get some pink cheeks.  But if it’s coming up on March and the effects of the first season’s storm are still visible and you’re facing the third morning of what they call a “wintry mix,” and you’re wondering if Lordy, is it too early for a drink? it may be time to regroup.  Inside.

We’ve had a zillion snow days since the end of December.  (Really, that’s the actual number.)  Because of this, we’ve been forced to be resourceful.  During this special bonding time (I suppose some might call it that), my design team and I have become really good at a few things, including completely dismantling the house.

Not to brag, but we’ve also gotten to be experts at making these Felted Hairbands.  It turns out that, once we got the Felted Wool Ball thingy down, we were itching for some sort of practical application of our newfound skill and Voila!  Note: we don’t attempt perfection.  As with all our other projects, we prefer quirky outcomes over conventional.  That said, we remind ourselves that, in nature, some flowers are more delicate, some are plumper, some grow to the right, some to the left, and some even lose a few petals.  Of course, this uniqueness should be celebrated.

This project requires a Felted Wool Ball, needle and thread, an elastic hair tie, remnant wool felt, and a small collection of felted sweaters.

Zigzaggy Strips

First, prepare the “petals” for the project.  With sharp sewing scissors, cut the felted sweaters into long zigzaggy strips, leaving a connection on the bottom edge—pointy or rounded tops.  Cut thin sweaters into narrow strips (for inner petals) and thick sweaters into wider strips (for outer petals).

I keep a stash of these strips handy for noteworthy projects like button bracelets or monster collars.  More on that later.


Hairband Sewing 1

With needle and thread in hand, stitch the bottom edge of one narrow zigzaggy strip around the sides of the felted ball until you meet up with the starting point.  Cut off the extra end of the strip.

Hairband Sewing 2Stitch a wider zigzaggy strip around the sides of the ball, matching bottom edges and overlapping the first strip until you meet up with the starting point.

Cut off the end.  Stitch a third (the widest) zigzaggy strip over the first two.  Cut off the end.

Hairband Sewing 3Next, and this is optional, use a felting needle, felting pad and wool roving to embellish the wool ball, adding spirals or dots (see previous post on Dry Felting).

Next, cut a large leaf-shaped piece of wool felt.  Place this piece on the bottom of your flower and sew around the edges, covering the rough zigzaggy strip edges.

Attach a hair tie on the leaf bottom with needle and thread.  Ta da!  Project complete.

Now you are ready to fill fields with felted flowers.  Or to, at least, wear one proudly.

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